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Lead Dust: The Fundamentals

Lead based paint

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), millions of homes in the United States still contain lead paint. While people typically associate lead exposure with peeling paint chips in an older home, one hazard that can be overlooked is lead present in household dust. In this blog, we will discuss lead in settled dust and how it is sampled.

Lead Paint Basics

Lead paint was used in many homes across the country and coveted for its durability, longevity, and the ability to amplify the appearance of certain colors. Lead paint was banned by the federal government in 1978 after the health effects of lead exposure became more apparent. When lead paint is stable, encapsulated by layers of newer non-lead based paint, and not peeling it poses less of a health risk. The primary route of exposure for lead is via ingestion and the primary demographic affected by lead exposure are young children. If you wanted to know about how lead-based paint is tested please refer to our previous blog on the subject.

How Lead Dust is Generated

If the paint in the home looks stable and is not chipping, it does not necessarily mean there is no lead present in the dust. Housework or renovations that involve sanding or scraping of paint can generate lead dust even in paint that has levels of lead that are below the regulated limits. Lead dust is usually linked to driving up lead levels in children’s blood while many assume its due to ingesting paint chips. Lead dust is typically higher in concentration in areas of high contact such as window sills and window troughs, but can also be present on the floors. It can also be brought into a home by tracking lead-containing soil into a home.

Lead Testing Methodology

Dust testing for lead is typically conducted if there a concern of a particular area in a property, a child developed lead poisoning, or if there was lead abatement or renovation occurring at a property. The testing involves using a sterile wipe to wipe down a horizontal surface with its dimensions documented. The common areas which are tested are floors, window sills, and window troughs. The wipes are then sent to an accredited laboratory where they are analyzed typically be flame atomic absorption analysis. This process involves dissolving the wipes in acid, and the resulting solution passing through a flame where its light spectra are analyzed which can determine the concentration.

Lead Dust Removal and Guidelines

Once elevated lead dust has been discovered, it should be removed by a licensed lead abatement professional. The process will typically involve containing the contaminated area, wet wiping, HEPA vacuuming, and sometimes chemical compounds are used. EPA guidelines are used to determine if lead levels are elevated;  however, local municipalities or states may have stricter guidelines. For example, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has much more stringent guidelines than the EPA. The IDPH clearance level for lead on the floor is a quarter of the EPA’s regulated limit (10 µg/f2 vs. 40 µg/f2).

Conclusions

If there is concern about lead dust in an older home, especially where children are present or renovation activities were recently completed, lead dust testing should be conducted. When conducting a renovation we recommend hiring a firm that is trained and certified in the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule which trains contractors on how to use lead-safe practices. At Indoor Science we offer lead-based paint testing and lead wipe testing. Lead in settled dust shows us how small containments can lead to greater health effects.

Ian Cull

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”